Problem-Based Learning

Problem-Based Learning


Problem-based learning (PBL) refers to a learning cycle wherelearners first encounter the problem, as opposed to the instructorinitially providing information to solve a latter problem (Savery,2006). As a result, students search for the information required tosolve the problem instead of depending on already acquired knowledge.In PBL, students employ triggers derived from the problem todetermine their personal learning goals. Afterward, they engage inindependent, individual research prior to working as a group (Savery,2006). Once, research has been compiled the students work in groupswhere they discuss as well as refine the knowledge gained. Hence, PBLemploys suitable problems in enhancing intellectual capacity. PBL isa type of active learning. This is because introducing students toproblems pushes them to inquire, seek answers, and put togethertheory and practice, in addition to communicating what they learn toothers.

Problem-based learning originates from inventive health sciencescurricula established more than thirty years ago (Donnelly &ampFitzmaurice, 2005). Medical education using science lecturers as wellas clinical teaching curriculums was progressively becominginefficient and an improper method of preparing students to becomemedical practitioners. Bearing in mind the wide availability ofmedical information, simply providing students with information touse in solving medical problems was proving to be an ineffectivelearning method (Donnelly &amp Fitzmaurice, 2005). This resulted inthe need for more innovative medical programs as PBL practice.

Long-established educational approaches produce learners that are inmost instances disenchanted and view education as boring (Strobel&amp Van Barneveld, 2009). Using traditional teaching methodsmeans that students have a wide array of information to memorize.Notably, most of the information is not applicable to the worldoutside school. The outcome is learners are highly unlikely to recallwhat they learn, and what they remember is not applicable to theissues they expect to solve in the real world (Strobel&amp Van Barneveld, 2009). This makes PBL a bettereducational approach because students enjoy learning. Using PBL,students have a higher learning motivation owing to the need tocomprehend and find solutions to problems (Strobel&amp Van Barneveld, 2009).

Following the invention of PBL in the medical programs, it hasdiffused to different courses like sustainability. Usingproblem-based learning, instructors identify issues linked tosustainability and ask learners to research on the issue. Throughresearch, students come up with knowledge, alternative actions aswell as possible solutions to solving the issue that they employ tocreate an action plan (Bessant et al, 2013). It is possible toexecute the action plan following assessment. PBL is an importantlearning approach due to its role in promoting the theoretical andpractical factors in sustainability literacy. Most educators agreethat the perfect pedagogies in the advancement of sustainabilityliteracy include those that make it possible for “students todevelop practical problem solving skills in real life sustainabilitycontexts” (Bessant et al, 2013, p.1). The pedagogies must bestudent-centered, encourage group work, active, focus on skills,experimental and problem-based, which are characteristics of PBL.

The experimental and mutual learning procedures apparent inproblem-based learning are suitable in developing sustainabilityskills. Students are capable of seeking solutions to sustainabilityissues and developing new skills via a holistic systems strategytowards sustainable development (Bessant et al, 2013). The objectiveof employing PBL is sustainability courses is to ensure students arecapable of exploring real life sustainability issues, which lack astraightforward solution. By using the learning strategy, studentsgain more comprehension of the intricate nature of sustainabilityproblems and in the process improve their interdisciplinarysustainability skills. The skills include “effective communication,ethical awareness, global citizenship, discussion and negotiation,listening and respecting others, team working, self and groupreflection, inter-cultural understanding and creative thinking amongothers” (Bessant et al, 2013, p.5). In addition to sustainabilityskills, students gain professional capabilities to apply in prospectsin the field of sustainability.

Sustainability is a developing issue in higher education. Mostlearning institutions realize the need to instill the ideals andsustainability practice in their students. It is important to ensurethat most of the graduates are sustainability knowledgeable becausethey will need to apply the knowledge in their professions (Jones,Selby &amp Sterling, 2010). PBL makes it possible forstudents to have an opportunity, while still in school, to solvecomplex issues via transformative learning. The objective oftransformative sustainability learning involves generating changes inthe views, ideals and student’s attitudes. In addition, using thePBL approach in a sustainability course, results in graduatesempowered to subsist and work in manners that result in a positiveeffect on the globe around them.

In summary, PBL is a student-focused learning approach. The learningprocess equips the student with skills that they not only use inschool, but skills that continue to be applicable when dealing withreal life problems. Students become accountable for their learningbecause they engage with the problem. The motivation to learnimproves when accountability and the procedure to solve a problemdepends on the student. The learner is able to work on what they knowand seek more knowledge on what they do not know. Through group work,students come up with the best solution to a problem. Since problemsin real life are ill structured, PBL enhances student’s capabilityto determine a problem and develop parameters on how to create asolution to problems.


Bessant, S., Bailey, P., Robinson,Z., Tomkinson, C, B., Tomkinson, R., Ormerod, M, R &amp Boast, R.(2013). Problem-basedlearning: A case study of sustainability education. Keele University, 1-36. Retrieved from dy_Bessant,%20et%20al.%202013.pdf

Donnelly, R. &amp Fitzmaurice, M. (2005) Collaborative project-basedlearning and problem-based learning in higher education: Aconsideration of tutor and student roles in learner-focused strategies. Emerging Issues in the Practice of UniversityLearning and Teaching. Dublin: AISHE, pp 87- 98.

Jones, P., Selby, D., &ampSterling, S. R. (2010).&nbspSustainabilityeducation: Perspectives and practice acrosshigher education.London: Earth scan.

Savery, J. R. (2006). Overview of problem-based learning: Definitionsand distinctions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-BasedLearning, 1(1), 9-20.

Strobel, J &amp Van Barneveld, A.(2009). When is PBL more effective? A meta-synthesis ofmeta- analyses comparing PBL to conventional classrooms.Interdisciplinary Journalof Problem-based Learning,3(1), 44-58.